Trail Blazes

While most of the time I am a road cyclist, occasionally I get the itch to explore somewhere new on my mountain bike. This will inevitably include a season of finding myself completely and hopelessly lost, usually in a deep valley where any choice I make will involve lots of hill climbing. A mistake will mean lots of spent (and ultimately, wasted) energy. And so I’ve found myself suddenly with a deep opinion about trail upkeep, particularly trail blazes. Blazes are marks on trees or rocks that assure you you’re on the right path. They show up every couple hundred feet or so, just enough to assure you that you did it right. If you’ve gone too long without seeing a trail blaze, chances are you’re headed in the wrong direction.

I was thinking about all of that when on Sunday our Confirmation class was discussing Matthew 25:31-46. Now, we had talked about the Gospel message, and how grace is a gift from God. The deep question I was asking our students was whether what they were reading in this passage from Matthew was actually a works based salvation? I mean, it seems to be that Jesus is saying that you get to go to heaven if you take care of people, and you don’t if you don’t. Isn’t that counter to the Christian message?

The trick is what happens in verses 37-40. When I have heard this passage preached, typically folks zero in on the “goats,” the people who forgot to take care of the least of these. They didn’t see what was right in front of them, so they get punished. But we forget that the “sheep,” the ones who got it right, were every bit as surprised as the goats. They had lived a whole life of righteousness, and were unaware. It’s almost like it was second nature. It was just part of who they were. It was in their DNA. So maybe, just maybe, their good work wasn’t so much a condition of their being saved, but rather was a trail blaze in faith to show them that they were on the right track.

This makes sense, right? I mean often we don’t get a clear map of what living as faithful Christians looks like from day to day. But I think we get these little trail blazes, subtle reminders that we’re on the right track, that we’re working in the right direction. I think this is a huge one. If we are working on the side of the least of these, working to love those who are on the outsides, the disenfranchised, the losers, that’s a trail blaze to remind us that we’re on the right track. And if we haven’t seen one of those blazes in a little while, maybe we need to get back on track.

What have you seen this week as a trail blaze in faith? How do you need to work your way back to the path of Christ?

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